Mayor Bloomberg vs. Sugar

Features on nannying and sweet temptations by Evan Ratliff, Allison Glock, and others.
4 stories

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making headlines again, attacking the city's new enemy: sugar. He "seems to have given up on our crumbling infrastructure and troubled education system, and he is facing down a problem he can handle," Jason Farago of the Guardian reports. "At City Hall this week, Bloomberg announced he will outlaw the sale of sodas, iced teas, sports drinks, and other sugar-packed beverages greater than 16 ounces, which these days is about the size of a McDonald's small. The proposal is riddled with exceptions, and New Yorkers will still be able to buy enormous quantities at supermarkets or bodegas, but everywhere from your corner restaurant to Madison Square Garden, the days of the mega-soda are numbered."

In 2011, John H. Richardson's profile of Bloomberg revealed that the billionaire mayor first came for the soda of the poor. "He's talking about his latest push to improve the habits of New Yorkers, this time by making it illegal to buy sugary drinks with food stamps," Richardson wrote. "If passed, this rule will join the rule about no smoking in restaurants and bars and the rule about requiring that homeless people have saving accounts if they want to stay in city shelters and the rule about—this is a man who spent half his autobiography listing his rules for conducting business and donating to charity with barely a page left over for his wife and children. He seems happiest when he runs through the data — more than 50 percent of adults are overweight, 40 percent of children, 6 percent of food stamps go to sugary drinks, $75 to $135 million is wasted, obesity-related illnesses cost $770 a year per New York household, poor adults get diabetes at twice the rate of the wealthy. There is strength in numbers, and he is strong."

And science backs up some of Bloomberg's fears. Last year, Gary Taubes wrote about the notion that sugar is poison. "It’s one thing to suggest, as most nutritionists will, that a healthful diet includes more fruits and vegetables, and maybe less fat, red meat and salt, or less of everything. It’s entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it," Taubes reported. "Suggesting that sugar might kill us is what zealots do. But Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar. His critics consider that evidence insufficient, but there’s no way to know who might be right, or what must be done to find out, without discussing it."

And Evan Ratliff chronicled the lengthy search for a sweet substitute. "When it comes to replacing sugar, plenty have tried. The history of sugar substitutes is a catalog of strange scientific accidents stretching back more than a century," Ratliff wrote. "In 1879, chemists Ira Remsen and Constantine Fahlberg synthesized a derivative of coal tar called orthobenzoyl sulfimide. One day, Fahlberg spilled the substance on his hand, which later that evening he touched to his mouth. It tasted sweet. He filed for a patent and called the substance saccharin. In 1937, a University of Illinois grad student discovered another sweetener when he set his cigarette on a lab bench during an experiment—testing a would-be antifever drug—and then took a drag off the cyclamate-coated end. In 1965, a chemist named Jim Schlatter was working on a compound to treat gastric ulcers. He licked his finger to grab a sheet of paper and tasted aspartame for the first time. Then there was the 1976 discovery of sucralose by a King's College student working with chemically altered sugars. The student—not a native English speaker— mistook his professor's instruction to 'test' the material and tasted a mouthful."

But Allison Glock is undeterred by the dangers of sugar, proudly declaring her love of sweet tea. "When you drink sweet tea, your body starts to pump out insulin like water from a fire hose," she wrote. "Then, you have the caffeine. Which stimulates your adrenaline. Which confuses your metabolism. And keeps you from feeling sated, as one normally would after swallowing that much sweetness. Only a select few can eat seven pieces of cheesecake at a sitting, for example. But nearly everyone I know nods and says, "Just one more" when the lunch lady comes around toting the clear pitcher with the rubber band snapped around the handle. Say what you will, but sweet tea is the real hillbilly heroin."

From the Web

Hitting the Sweet Spot

It’s got full flavor at one-third the calories. It’s safe for teeth and diabetics. And it’s all-natural. The long, strange search for the ultimate sugar substitute.

Nov 2003

Is Sugar Toxic?

That it makes us fat is something we take for granted. That it might also be making us sick is harder to accept.

By Editors Recommend

Sweet Tea

A love story.

Aug 2008
From the Web

Mike Bloomberg Will Save Us from Ourselves If Only We Let Him

He’s liberal. He’s conservative. He’s idealistic. He’s pragmatic. He’s egalitarian. He’s the elite of the elite. He’s not running for president. But he just might consider a hostile takeover.

Jan 2011